They say that the relationship you will endure for eternity is with yourself. Considering the long-term nature of this tethered connection, forfeiting your self-esteem would be a crying shame. Your self-esteem refers to how much you value and what you perceive about yourself. When you observe your reflection in the mirror or the lived chapters of your unfolding story, what do you see, and how do you feel?
Most of the time, our answer to this question is clouded by the impressions people and experiences have on us. There is a general predisposition to align our opinions about ourselves and our choices with an unwritten criterion that, we believe, dictates our suitability for acceptance within society. While satisfying a sense of belonging is an inherent part of the human condition, soothing this ancient need within a modern (and digital) system presents a flaw. Is our desire to occupy a favourable place in our community causing us to misplace positive self-esteem?
A desire to belong as a central part of human nature
Belongingness and self-esteem are essential requirements for a healthy and happy existence and are inextricably associated. When you are part of a group where your interests are shared, your quirks are celebrated, and you are influenced to transcend any perceived limitations you may have about yourself, your self-esteem becomes the proud beneficiary thereof. The inverse is also true; should you position yourself in an environment where your emotional safety is at risk and a map towards self-doubt is reluctantly acquired by you, your self-esteem wilts like a flower exposed to sweltering heat.
Belonging to something tends to sculpt most areas of one’s life in some shape or form. People belong to families and friendship circles and different cultures and nationalities. We are members of religious and pastime groups and act in solidarity with political parties and reform movements. All in all, no matter the standing, being part of any crowd can stimulate us for the better or worse. This is vital in coordinating ourselves–and feeling fulfilled in our identity – within society.
Feeling understood and socially accepted shapes our self-esteem
A human being’s journey on Earth is not intended to be trekked alone. As we forge ahead, fostering meaningful and positive relationships with others makes us feel understood. They serve as anchors of strength when we stumble upon impediments that inevitably litter our paths. There is great solace in knowing that someone else has combatted the same battle as you have or been on the receiving end of similar anguish.
Moreover, simply having encouragement from another person – irrespective of whether they relate to what you are experiencing – plasters the bricks of your wall of resilience and self-esteem. Feeling less alone in our afflictions spurs the will to cope better and triumph over it. Considering the intrinsic necessity for being socially accepted somewhere, people will go to great (and sometimes damaging) lengths to attain it in fear of abandonment and rejection. The pursuit of belonging to heighten our self-esteem does not always guarantee the actualisation of this desire.
When our desire to belong becomes a problem
Our sense of community (and self-esteem) has evolved greatly since the inception of technology, particularly social media. Bridges of various arrays of connections between people, no matter where they reside, have been built. One can obtain knowledge about someone’s life and their whereabouts and contact them directly at a moment’s notice. Technology can be commended in this regard. However, social interaction is growing progressively digital (due to its convenience), which, unfortunately, makes finding yourself in a far-too-accessible comparison trap easier and more frequent.
We have an unnatural front-row viewing of the lives of people we know and do not know. What is routinely shown to us are their highlights and accomplishments, alongside comments of approval (or disapproval) from others. Rarely are the realities and hardships illustrated. It stands to reason that our self-esteem takes a beating when we deflect our attention to the purported prosperity of others we see online, alongside remarks that validate them. This sort of exposure provokes the prompt self-detection and scrutinising of our blunders. We lean into desperate efforts to belong and receive that advantageous seal of approval from the world because our self-worth faces peril without it.
Self-acceptance as a cure
Social media is not a platform for refreshing candour. However, generating an awareness around this, who you show up as in real life, and why or why not it matters may lessen your need for the external validation it implicitly claims to deliver. Repeatedly taking the time to understand who you are and why you are the way you are, is a powerful exercise. It illuminates your social standing and why a nod of acceptance from certain groups is significant to you. Be sure to observe yourself honestly but compassionately; self-reflection is not a licence for self-criticism or loathing. A means of carrying this out is by writing your thoughts down in a journal and performing shadow work (your shadow self is the part of you where you carry shame and unwanted qualities about yourself; however, it deserves to be brought to light).
Some shadow work journal prompts to consider
Where do I carry shame about myself and my life?
Why do I feel this way? Is it because of what others have said, or did I evoke it myself?
What would others think if they knew what I feel most shameful about?
Do I know this to be a fact? Why?
What are some destructive behaviours I have in place that fuel my feelings of shame?
What do I need to feel less ashamed of?
What action step(s) can I take to correct the previously listed destructive behaviours?
Upon finishing this practice, heed your strengths and uniqueness; recognise that we are all fallible human beings. Accept the person that you have been and are. Accompany this by appreciating the value of striving for personal growth and how it can be an asset to your self-esteem. Self-acceptance is not about permanently remaining as you are, excusing your self-induced setbacks, and negating the opportunity to become a better version of yourself. It is a valuable frame of mind to adopt in your journey to attaining your goals and perpetually evolving into someone you are proud of. When your self-esteem is reinforced by unwavering self-acceptance, the right sense of belonging will find you.
A square peg in a round hole
Our desire to fit into the “right” puzzle somewhere in society is like fitting a square peg in a round hole; it becomes forced, does not work, and leaves us painfully detached from our individuality. Refrain from catering to every whim to be in good standing with everybody else besides yourself. Measure your self-esteem by only comparing where and who you are now to previous versions of yourself. Self-acceptance is a liberating rite of passage that will make navigating social ties, digital or otherwise, and discovering true belonging more unproblematic. The next time you have a conversation with your reflection in the mirror, may your words be empathetic and your heart feels like it belongs.
Where do you lie on the self-esteem spectrum? Have other groups of people and the desire to belong made an impression on how you rate yourself? Is self-acceptance familiar or a foreign practice to you? Let us know in the comments!